Friday, February 19, 2016

Dispelling the Myths of Luperon….

After a beautiful night sail with 15 kts on a broad reach from Big Sand Cay (south of Grand turk), the winds died down at daybreak, just as the mountains of the Dominican Republic arose from the sea.  It was an incredibly dramatic landfall, and a sight for sore eyes after spending so many months on the flatter islands of the Bahamas and Turks.  We could smell the fertile soil of the island long before we could see it, and the sight of mountains amidst the vast ocean was something I've always dreamed of seeing in real life.  What explorers must've felt like after months at sea, I cannot imagine…

Upon entering the harbor, we were greeted by a local named Papo in his penga and guided through the "channel."  Apparently 2/3rds of first time visitors will run aground if they are not guided in.  The channel markers are NOT in their correct places and both sets of our charts are lacking any sort of information regarding depths in the harbor itself.  There are a few shoals and low areas to watch out for.  Initially we had planned to anchor, but after realizing how crowded the anchorage was and not really knowing the depths, we opted to take a mooring ball from Papo for $2 a day.  I'm glad we did as we have several boaters drag since (including our buddy boat Sailboat Furminger). Papo, as it turns out, is the local go-to guy for any of your needs, from propane, to fuel, laundry, and water all delivered to your boat at a very reasonable price.  He even helped us rent motorcycles for $10/day.  

Ok, so let's discuss the topic of Luperon as a cruisers' stop.   We have read and heard many horror stories regarding Luperon.  From a filthy harbor, to the rampant theft and crime, corruption amongst government officials, lack of services, and nothing to do… we were a bit apprehensive to say the least.  I'd just like to clear the air and dispel some of the horribly inaccurate rumors.  First, yes, it is a filthy harbor, you are not going to be able to swim off your boat nor use your water makers.  Yes, there is some corruption amongst government officials, but let's be realistic, we are dealing with a third world country here and the money we are talking about is quite nominal (I suspect we overpaid "official fees" about $30.  There was no greasing of palms or requests for tips, but they certainly were creative with the "fees").  All said and done, the total price is still half the price of clearing into the Bahamas or the Turks.   But with that being said, I would never EVER dissuade someone from coming here.  This place is a diamond in the rough and from what we've heard from local Ex-Pats, the closest you will find to what the rest of the Caribbean was like 30 years ago.  The anchorage itself is incredibly sheltered, but it's hard to get enough scope out for proper holding (the bottom is a soft jelly-like mud, and bruce as well as new generation anchors supposedly offer the best holding).  Even as I write this, it is blowing a steady 20 knots and the boat is not is rocking.  

Luperon has been hands down, by far, our favorite stop in terms of beauty and culture.  For the first time since we've started back in March, we feel like we are finally cruising.  It epitomizes what we had first imagined cruising the Caribbean would be like before we had set out.  It's a small, little fishing village off the beaten track, far enough from the touristy areas of which the Dominican Republic has many of to retain a lot of its true culture.  Goats, cows, and chickens roam free among the streets along with packs of stray dogs.  Fruit grows everywhere, from mangos, to papayas, to guavas, and you can smell the lush trees everywhere you go.  The people here, though extremely poor, are exceptionally friendly offering warm smiles and greetings.  Yes, there is petty crime here as with anywhere in the world, and you should take precautions and stay situationally aware to minimize your risks.  But really I don't feel threatened here.  The people are always trying to engage you in conversation, and we've even been invited to someone's home for lunch.  We've roamed the streets at night, snapping photos of the locals just hanging out outdoors, and socializing with one another.  We've sampled some of the local street fare, from tiny shacks to gringo owned restaurants and not once have we felt unwelcome.  Yes, we felt out of place at times, but that is simply a part of traveling.  So far, we've been here for over a week, and we are loving every single moment… Stay tuned for more about our adventures in Luperon...

Papo guiding us in...
Our anchorage...
Guanabana growing on the side of the road.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Top 9 Things to do in the Bahamas…

Since the Bahamas were our first real playground to explore via sailboat, I thought it suiting to write this post as an ode to our maiden voyage.  We spent about a total of 6 1/2 months exploring these beautiful islands and really learned a lot about Moitessier as well as ourselves during this time.  Here are some highlights, starting with our favorites:

1. Marketfish Cay, Berry Islands
By far, my most favorite cay is Marketfish Cay in the Berry Islands.  The snorkeling and spearfishing here is absolutely remarkable.  And aside from it being one of the less inhabited of all the islands we've visited, this place has offered the most abundant as well as the most diverse type of coral reef.  During our last visit to the Bahamas, we spent nearly 3 weeks here, without another boat in sight, simply spearfishing every single day. The only downside to this place was the amount of shark sitings we had, which happened to be the most out of all the places we have dove in, but that really doesn't deter from the beauty of this paradise.

2.  Mayaguana 
Another favorite spearfishing spot!  This island offered the clearest, bluest water I have ever seen in my life.  This is really saying a lot since most of the turquoise waters in the Bahamas are quite spectacular.  As mentioned in another post, the water here is so clear that you can drop a quarter in 35 ft of water and still see it on the bottom.  The visibility for snorkeling and diving is remarkable.  Mayaguana made it to my top 2 simply because it was the first place Frank and I had spotted and speared Stone Crab, as well as Slipper Lobsters.  The coral here is quite diverse, and for those who don't necessarily enjoy free diving on deeper coral, this place also offers some shallow coral that you can explore on.

Conch, Spiney Lobster, Slipper Lobster, Stone Crab!

3.  Hermitage on Cat Island
Built by Father Jerome in the early 20th Century on New Bight in Cat Island, this hermitage offers some the most stunning views from atop of the highest peak of all of the Bahamas.  Aside from this site being one of the cooler things I've seen, the island itself was made all the more enjoyable from the friendly locals who were more than hospitable.  While asking for directions to hike the hermitage, we were offered not only a ride, but the use of this local Bahamian's car since she thought it was "too hot out" to walk up to the trail, and basically lent us her car for a couple of hours.  We found that this was not an isolated incident, and that wherever we went throughout the island, we were offered rides with the locals patiently waiting in their cars while we grocery shopped.  Incredible.

4.  Calabash Bay, Long Island
Aside from the amount of lobster and fish offered from spearfishing on the coral here (we speared 12 lobsters, 2 crabs, and a big ass snapper in one day alone), Long Island has a lot to offer in terms of pristine beaches and beautiful sunsets.  Overall a favorite simply because of the beauty of this anchorage.  Though the anchorage itself is by no means sheltered, we thoroughly enjoyed this little paradise with its soft white sands and incredible sunsets.

5.  Cabbage Cay, Berry Islands
Out of all of the islands, Cabbage Cay was the best in terms of conch hunting.  I'm not sure if it's because it's one of the less travelled places in the Berry Islands, but we found it to be brimming with conch.  It was also one of the more picturesque places with pretty little salt flats and idyllic beaches where you can pretty much beach comb in the nude as we didn't really see any boats or even people here.  

6.  Thunderball Grotto, Staniel Cay
Though one of my least favorite islands was Staniel Cay due to high tourism and lack of coral to dive on, Thunderball Grotto was one of the coolest things I've seen in the Bahamas.  Even with the tour boats bringing loads of fat, pale tourists in, I still thought that this cave was so beautiful.  Perhaps it's because it was the first cave I've ever seen, but one way or another, I love this place!  If you ever go here, be sure to explore outside the cave as well as the coral formation outside it is amazing.

7.  Plane wreck on Norman's Cay
This was one of the most spectacular dives I've ever done.  This plane was one of the drug running planes in the Bahamas back in the 80s.  As made famous by the movie Blow, based on true events about the cocaine smuggling into America, one of the drug smugglers, Carlos Lehder, had made Norman's Cay into his own private fortress.  One of the wings of this wreck can be seen from above the water and as you dive under, you get this eerie feeling that someone is watching you.  Creepy but also cool as hell since the plane itself is covered with colorful coral and tropical fish.

8.  Blackpoint Settlement, Exumas
I don't know exactly what the magnetic draw is for me to this place, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this settlement.  Perhaps it was the offering of coin operated fresh showers along with a laundromat right in front of the anchorage.  Or maybe it was simply the communal vibe I got from this place, as the population here is a mere 230.  The locals here are incredibly friendly and we found that both times visiting this settlement, we were welcomed with open arms, with most people remembering our names.   We were always greeted with a big smile and some nights, we found ourselves in deep conversations with some of the locals while we enjoyed our dinner.  The happy energy here is remarkable, and though there really isn't much to do in terms of diving or really anything, every single person that we had spoken to had nothing but good things to say about living on this island.  Sometimes, it's the simplest things that can produce happiness.

9.  Hoffman's Cay, Berry Islands
Last, but not least, Hoffman's Cay.  Hoffman's Cay is famous for its 600-ft wide and 20-ft deep blue hole.   A short hike up a well marked trail will lead you to the edge of the blue hole, where you can either jump off a short cliff and land in the warm blue water, or hike down a little further for those of you afraid of heights.  Supposedly, from what I've read, the only living inhabitants in this body of water are oysters, though I've found that to be untrue as we did spot a single Schoolmaster snapper the last time we were here.  Along with this blue hole, Hoffman's also offers a hike to the top of the island, marked ambiguously with a flip flop hanging on a tree, offering stunning views of the ocean side's white cliffs and big waves.  

So there you have it, our favorites.  I wanted to make this a Top 10 list, but to be honest, I couldn't think of a 10th one aside from the Exuma Markets in Georgetown.  Of course, I couldn't include this since this is simply due to the fact that it is one of the only markets outside of Nassau that was truly well stocked and not super overpriced.  Not exactly a tourist destination, but it certainly did bring me a great amount of joy to find fresh portobello mushrooms and arugula.  I was tempted to add this, but stopped myself, haha…I think we definitely made the most of the Bahamas.  My only regret is not spending time in the out islands of the Bahamas, such as the Jumentos and Ragged Islands.  As well, I do wish we had more time in Mayaguana to explore.  Perhaps on the way back to the states, we will stop to enjoy these more remote places.